The 'loveable eccentric' is told off

14th July 2000 at 01:00
Chris Woodhead's warm remarks about Tory policy have been criticised by Labour and the unions, reports Nicolas Barnard

CHRIS Woodhead faced calls for his resignation this week after appearing to back Tory education policy.

The chief inspector of schools infuriated unions by saying that Opposition leader William Hague had "struck a chord" with his free schools initiative and suggesting that they too supported it.

Just days after Mr Hague relaunched the policy which would remove most government and local authority constraints on heads, Mr Woodhead repeated his long-held view that "good heads should be given the freedom to manage their own destiny".

They should also have the last word on exclusions, something Mr Hague had proposed, which has received support from teachers contacted by The TES.

Speaking on GMTV, Mr Woodhead attacked the "liberal establishment" - a current favourite target for the Conservatives who blame it for ruining the education system.

His comments followed Mr Hague's speech last week which heaped praise on the chief inspector, saying he was doing "more than anyone else in Britain to drive up standards".

A spokesman for the Office for Standards in Education dismissed the coverage of his appearance on television as "sensationalist", saying the transcript showed Mr Woodhead had been taken out of context.

Barry Sheerman, Labour chair of the education select committee to whom Mr Woodhead is, in theory, accountable, warnd the chief inspector to stick to "facts and research".

"He seems intent on pursuing a reputation as a loveable eccentric," said Mr Sheerman. "He should be careful it does not detract from his serious purpose as chief inspector."

The National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers called for Mr Woodhead to resign.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, said: "William Hague can see the advantage of getting the chief inspector on his side, but it raises questions about his continuing role in charge of a government department."

David Hart, the NAHT's general secretary, was furious to hear his union's partial welcome for Mr Hague's line on exclusions portrayed as blanket support when other proposals, such as abolishing national pay scales and creating a free-for-all in admissions, were "fundamentally flawed".

"Mr Woodhead is entering the political debate in a very dangerous manner," he said. "He has become a highly political animal."

But ministers supported the chief inspector.

A spokesman for Education Secretary David Blunkett said Mr Woodhead had raised concerns about issues of bureaucracy and discipline in schools which the Government had already started addressing.

"He made the point that the teaching unions may have felt William Hague struck a chord with them. Given that quite a lot of what Hague has been saying has come straight from the unions, it would be surprising if it hadn't," he said.

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